For years, we’ve been told that cholesterol-lowering medications called statins can prevent heart disease and that the drugs do far more good than harm. Not so fast, says British cardiologist Dr. Aseem Malhotra who, along with several other experts, recently wrote a scathing opinion piece in the medical journal Prescriber about the latest study to exalt the efficacy and safety of statin therapy.
One critical problem, say Malhotra and his colleagues, is that the raw data behind statin studies have not been published and there is no way to independently verify the findings. To boot, most of the studies that have concluded statin therapy is safe and effective have been industry-funded.
“Decades of misinformation on cholesterol and the gross exaggeration of statin benefits with downplaying of side effects has likely led to the overmedication of millions of people across the world,” says Malhotra.
“The lack of transparency in the prescription of statins is just one symptom of a broken system of healthcare where finance-based medicine has trumped independent evidence and what is most important for patients. At the heart of the problem is that those with a responsibility to patients and scientific integrity — namely medical journals and institutions — collude with industry for financial gain.”
Until access to raw clinical trial data is released, Malhotra and his colleagues note, there is no way to advance an evidence-based claim about the efficacy or safety of statins.
“It’s time to enter a new era for full independent access to all clinical trials data so doctors can make decisions on treatments with patients with full transparency about true benefits and risks,” Malhotra says. “Until then let’s open our eyes and stop buying into the great cholesterol con.”